China ends force labour for sex workers

China ends force labour for sex workers
Past detainees claim they were forced to work making toys and household goods. Source: AFP
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Daily US Times, Beijing: China is to end a punishment system for sex workers that allowed police to hold them and their clients in custody for up to two years.

Detainees were forced to work, allegedly making household goods and making toys.

The detention system, what Chinese authority described as so-called education centres will come to an end on 29 December. China’s state media Xinhua reports, those who are still in custody will be released, but prostitution remains illegal in the country.

Prostitution carries a punishment of up to 15 days in detention and fines up to 5,000 yuan.

The ‘custody and education’ system was introduced more than 20 years ago, and Xinhua claimed this system has helped to maintain a ‘good social atmosphere and public order’.

NGO Asia Catalyst published a study in 2013, where it questioned whether this scheme was effective. The study claimed the detainees were unable to learn new skills during detention and forced to manual labour.

‘All of the sex workers we interviewed returned to the sex trade immediately after release’, the study said.

Human Rights Watch published a report in 2013, which contains interviews of 140 sex workers, clients, police and specialists. The report says that many sex workers were beaten by police in an attempt to coerce confessions.

One sex worker said ‘The police told me it was fine, all I needed to do was sign my name, and they would release me after four or five days. Instead, I was locked up in (a) Custody and Education centre for six months.’

Asia Catalyst director Shen Tingting welcomes China’s new move but said it is only a small step towards safeguarding the rights of sex workers.

‘Chinese law and policies focus on prohibition and cracking down on sex work, rather than providing a framework to ensure the health and safety of sex work as a profession,’ she added.

China announced in 2013 it had abolished its system of ‘re-education through labour camps’ for petty criminals.

But the country is not abolishing the idea of so-called ‘re-education’ programme. The government took thousands of Uighur Muslims into voluntary education camps that China claims ‘help to combat extremism’.